HOOPS ON HOPS: Homebrewing is easy to tap into
Like most professional brewers, I started as a homebrewer. Using my kitchen stove, I brewed more than 100 batches of beer. My long-suffering wife ("It stinks!") was nice enough to support my hobby while I got the hang of it. This was in the late-'80s and early-'90s, so equipment and ingredients were not so easy to find. Today, it's easy to put together a system that can make really tasty beer.
The first thing I tell anyone who asks about homebrewing is the fun of self-educating. There are entire sections at the bookstore on homebrewing and vast resources on the Internet. My favorite go-to books are Charlie Papazian's "The Complete Joy of Homebrewing" and "The Homebrewer's Companion," and Ray Daniels' "Designing Great Beers: The Ultimate Guide to Brewing Classic Beer Styles." One of the best online resources is howtobrew.com by John Palmer. When you feel up to speed, here's what you'll need. Note: These instruments will be included in any recipe kit):
A stainless steel boiling pot (3- to 4-ounces for beginners)
A heat source — stovetop or standup propane-fueled burner (outdoor use only)
Fermenter and secondary fermenter (glass carboys are my preferred vessel, available in many sizes)
1 bung and airlock (per fermenter and conditioner)
Plastic tubing for blow off hoses and moving beer by siphon from vessel to vessel (about 10 feet)
There are many items that I could add to this list and most probably will be added by you if you decide to try this hobby. It is so fun that most folks can't help but exploring further. That is where your local shop can help with advice and recipe kits.
Cleanliness is the No. 1 path to brewing good beer, so thoroughly clean each piece of equipment before you begin. Homebrew chemicals produced by Five Star Cleaning include products to wash and sanitize during all steps of the process.
When I began brewing at home I did it the simplest possible way by using malt extract, which is the concentrated version of sugars from malted barley. Available in dry and liquid form, it comes in different colors such as gold, amber and dark. When it is boiled and cooled, the extract will provide the fermentable sugars. Those sugars provide the food for the yeast, which then creates alcohol.
Here is the basic process.
Add water to boil in the pot for at least five minutes to kill any bacteria.
Add malt extract 1 to 1.5 pounds per gallon of water to produce a medium-strength beer.
Boil for one hour. Add hops at start, middle and end of your boil time. The hops add bitterness that balances the sweet malt notes and will also add flavor if a lot are used. Usually, recipe kits recommended at homebrew shops will include a schedule of the hop additions.
After the boil, cool the wort (unfermented beer) before yeast addition.
When I started homebrewing, I made an ice bath in my bath tub and put the boil pot in for 30 minutes. As I brewed more, I added a wort chiller to my equipment inventory which did this much more quickly.
When wort is cool, transfer using cleaned plastic hose into the cleaned fermenter.
Add liquid yeast (purchased with a recipe kit)
Store in dark area at about 68 degrees and add blow-off hose to top of the fermenter which allows the gas created by fermentation to escape.
The first step of fermentation (primary) will take about one week. You, the brewer, will collect a sample every few days using the hydrometer to check if primary fermentation is complete. At that point, the beer will be racked (transferred) into another clean carboy, stoppered with an airlock and allowed to age for 10-16 days, depending on the beer style.
At that point, it will be ready to drink and can be bottled or kegged.
There is an incredible amount of information available to mine after this first contact.
Level II homebrewers will advance to keeping records, making beer using steeped flavor malts in the boil kettle and then go on to brewing completely with malted barley (all-malt). This allows the advanced homebrewer to brew beers of great quality on par with brands purchased off-sale in the retail market.